Originally published in Spanish in http://www.auroraboreal.net/actualidad/entrevistas/2430-entre-el-mito-y-la-historia-una-nueva-literatura-asoma
Publicado originalmente en español en http://www.auroraboreal.net/actualidad/entrevistas/2430-entre-el-mito-y-la-historia-una-nueva-literatura-asoma
Translation by Carlos Villacorta
Karina Pacheco Medrano (Cusco, 1969) holds a PhD in Anthropology from the Americas and is an expert in Inequality, Cooperation and Development from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. As a writer, in 2006 she published her first novel La voluntad del molle (The Will of Molle), which was reissued in 2016 by the Fondo de Cultura Económica; The year 2008 won the Regional Prize of Novel of the National Institute of Culture of Cusco with No olvides nuestros nombres (Do Not Forget Our Names); in 2010 he published the novel La sangre, el polvo, la nieve, (Blood, Dust, Snow), as well as her first storybook, Alma Alga. In 2012 published Cabeza y orquídeas (Head and Orchids), winning work of the National Prize of Novel Federico Villarreal 2010. In 2013 published the book of tales El sendero de los rayos (The Trail of the Rays) and the novel El bosque de tu nombre (The Forest of Your Name), and in 2015 an anthology of her short stories, Miradas (Gazes). She directs Ceques Editores, an independent publisher specializing in Narrative, History and Andean Anthropology.
Carlos Villacorta: Ricardo Piglia mentions in The Initial Form (2015) that literature is first and foremost a machine of representations and interpretations. In your novels, there is a concern to portray or represent today’s Cusco and also from the past century. What was the challenge in terms of fiction, that is to say, how much of a quest was it for language for the background of your novels?
Karina Pacheco: Cusco is a place where history is very present, both because of the large number of Inca, pre-Inca and colonial monuments that it hosts, because it has been the scene of continuous social movements, because in the local culture (Cuzqueña and Andean in general) oral history is still a living element. But beyond that traditional and typical Cusco portrayed in postcards, there is the other Cusco in continuous social change, extremely cosmopolitan, which also has an unholy side, rather chaotic, dirty and Dionysian. But most people, inside and outside of Cusco, want to keep the vision of the postcard. Then from fiction there is on the one hand a breath to unravel historical moments that counts tremendous things of what we were, of what we inherited, but there is still much to deal with sordid aspects of our history, some discovered through intimate oral histories; all of them move micro and macro stories. For me, coming from a background in anthropology and history, a persistent challenge is how to represent that in fiction without surrendering to the most explanatory and rigorous language of the Social Sciences, how to give fiction its own force with that literary language that, without counting nor explaining the concrete facts, suggests the essential, the beautiful, the sordid.
CV: What you mention is important because this cartography of micro-macro stories about Cusco is new for Peruvians and foreign readers. I think this is especially true for the reissue of your novel La voluntad del molle, which has been very well received in our country. Your novel tells us the social changes of the city of Cusco and how they have an impact on the families that live there.
KP: In the airports and in the few bookstores in the center of Cusco there are many books on the “postcard Cusco”, focused on their tourist sides or in stories that sell a lot of exotic, colorful and new age images that stay in the superficial. There you barely find some fundamental books of Peruvian history or literature. In the imaginary of the visitor and the local reader, this reinforces the idea of a “typical” Cusco, only beautiful and interesting for its past and its mountains (not even the forest, which occupies half of our territory, appears in that imaginary); although in the reality of this region, as in so many others in the world, in the day to day many other logics, stories and tensions strike, some that are very particular to it (like its conflicts between modernity and tradition, or the validity of oral memory), and others that express more universal issues such as social climbing, machismo and racism, family secrets, ostensible and subtle cruelties, as well as the search for identities and truths. Exploring in it seems to me certainly more interesting and challenging, because it involves carving out more complex situations, more everyday, that I often observe or have lived quite closely.
CV: Continue on representations, a certain poetic language has been mentioned about your texts. This strikes me as most Peruvian narrators do not incorporate, possibly not knowing how to, work language beyond mere descriptive. In your novels, you can notice an incorporation of both the musicality of the words and the music itself. Concretely, as many songs as the musical instruments are part of the subject of your fiction, as in the stories “The violinist of the mountains” or as in the character of Giralda in La sangre, el polvo, la nieve.
KP: Perhaps this comes from the readings and contemplations. Although I do not write poetry, nor would I dare, I enjoy reading it. There is in the great poetry, as well as in the observation of nature, a radical, essential language, the one that crosses you from top to bottom, as well as the continuous finding of metaphors and suggestions. Right now, as I write these answers, I find myself on a ninth floor of an avenue laden with traffic at rush hour and I am surprised how, possibly from the trees of the cross streets, the persistent song of the birds reaches as high as the horns. The other day I saw them from the street, they are entirely black (they are not crows, they are much smaller). I do not know if it is the proximity of spring that encourages that song. In any case, these landscapes and everyday sounds suggest reflections, other images, questions, and this, when I write stories and novels, I guess it filters in what is coming out. On the presence of music, this must come from my unfulfilled desires. I would have loved to have played an instrument, as a child I dreamed of the piano, then I tried several times with the guitar and I always remain open-mouthed with violinists. I guess there was neither the opportunity, nor the patience, nor the gift to develop those desires, so I’m content listening to a variety of music. There are almost always musical backgrounds when I write. Looking back, I realize that in the case of my novels, each one has had particular melodies and records that have accompanied me continuously in the process of writing. That was not sought, simply that music was part of the circumstances and desires of those periods.
CV: Do you remember any particular soundtrack for any of your books?
KP: Yes! I clearly remember a lot of fado (especially in the voice of Amalia Rodrigues, Mísia and Dulce Pontes) while writing La voluntad del molle; several albums by Luis Eduardo Aute and Entre línies by Marina Rossell with No olvides nuestros nombres; Bossa nova, Bach’s cantatas and Alonso del Río’s Canciones de Medicina while investigating and writing about the violence in Guatemala for El bosque de tu nombre; And more recently, in the writing and reviews of my last novel (still unpublished), I have been accompanied by Mare Nostrum and El cant of sibilla by Jordi Savall, boleros by Javier Solís and all Sui Generis.
CV: I return to the subject of music now that Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
KP: I think there should be a specific Nobel for the Arts, which includes Painting, Dance, Music, Architecture, because there are great creators in these areas whose works often go unnoticed for the general public. A prize of that level would open the possibility of discovering them, revising them, widening their gaze towards them. This grand prize would go perfectly to Dylan, as well as to other great creators who do not receive this worldwide recognition because they are outside the more specific fields of the Nobel (Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace). For my part, I would have given a Nobel Prize to Oscar Niemeyer, Zaha Hadid or Le Corbusier in architecture; or Jordi Savall, Milton Nascimento or Glen Gould in music; this to put only a few examples of brilliant people with jobs that make the life sublime or better to millions and that are not recognized with that category of “Nobel”. So, there should be a Nobel in Humanities that includes creators whose works in Philosophy, Social Sciences, Environment or History are immense collaborations for the humanity and that also little known or recognized by the public.
CV: Are you a reader of poetry?
KP: Yes. I do not write poetry or dare, but I enjoy reading it. It is a gift when I discover an author I did not know and whose words are sharp and intimate. I remember, for example, how I was impressed by Las moras agraces of Carmen Jodra Davó, a masterpiece coming from a very young author who had this as her first book. The same happened to Miquel Martí i Pol, whom I began to read when the news of his death came in 2003, and with it a renewed attention to his work. I love it. Desprès de tot (After all) is a gem. More recently, I have the same feeling with Enemigo by José Carlos Agüero, whom I knew and appreciated for his previous book of memoirs-reflections Los rendidos and for his work on human rights. Enemigo is tremendous, and it is a sample of how good poetry reaches greater depths than what normally is offered in stories / discussions from the Social Sciences or the Narrative.
CV: Your novel Cabeza y Orquídeas is in opposition to the others because it was your first novel set in Lima. However, there is also a development of the story focused on the female character, in this case, a young woman who comes of age and discovers a terrible family mystery. This is interesting because much of your fiction focuses on the construction of the female subject, whether the sisters Elena and Elisa in La voluntad del molle or Giralda in La sangre, el polvo, la nieve. Is female subjectivity a family confrontation? In other words, does revealing a family secret complete female identity?
KP: I think that the identities, feminine or masculine, are constructed. We are born with some very particular essential characteristics, but much of what we believe to be comes from what we are taught (parents, society, school) as appropriate models of thinking, believing and even feeling; although there is always something that escapes of what is taught to us, and escapes more and more when it is forbidden, like an oppression felt, or secrets and silences that are expressed in gestures, looks, incomplete sentences. If we realize this, we can begin to discover what it is that we truly are or want, we can be freer to inquire into the quiet, forbidden or oppressed; or we can be accommodated to what we have been taught to be even if it causes us different types of discomfort. When one enters to inquire into the least visible of what we are or surrounds us, there is something in us that is complete, something that offers us a better understanding of things, even when the process of unveiling can be painful and confusing. These are themes that I have seen throughout my life and appear recurrent in my novels.
CV: As an anthropologist you have mentioned the value of mythology to understand the complexity of human societies. But my question is not so much on the side of using myths in your stories, as in the excellent story “Piel de Oso” (Skin Bear), but rather in the use of history. You feel in your novels a plot that needs a broad and historical perspective to solve an event of the present: either the death of the young boys in La sangre, el polvo, la nieve or war in El bosque de tu nombre. How do you see this relationship between history and myth in your work?
KP: I am aware that the story has been an active scene in my novels (perhaps where less appears is in Cabeza y Orquídeas, which is the shortest). I suppose this is due to my taste for history, as well as my predilection for novels that offer me a social portrait that goes beyond the plot that involves its protagonists; In fact, often that portrait helps to delve deeper into the more intimate or private plot that is developing. It has been in the stories where I have been able to explore or turn around mythical myths or elements that are disturbing to me, or a dazzling beauty that does not allow to be seen directly. The myths have an immense symbolic power, you can read them with different lenses and find different meanings. In the novel I am finishing writing/reviewing (for the fifth time) is the first time where the mythical takes a notable presence and I have felt very comfortable. Before, working the long distances (novel) in realistic style gave me some security; I felt that including mythological elements could take away force and “truth” to a long fiction, but this time the mythical elements were tightly woven with the intimate plot of the characters and those of the larger story.
CV: Since we have touched on the subject of anthropology, it is inevitable to not think of José María Arguedas as the other Peruvian writer who does not discriminate one work from the other. Is this your case? How does anthropology help your fiction? And of course, the other side of the coin is when does this Social Science fail to achieve the goal of telling a fiction?
KP: Several times I have commented with friends that I probably could not be a writer, or I would not write what I write, had I not gone through Anthropology. Since we have talked about building identity, I realize that my most basic self-need is to submerge in history, in field research with “ordinary” people, in that challenge of crossing our individual, social and cultural borders that anthropology assumes. My imagination was greatly enriched by this career. Later on, many of the approaches of Anthropology have been very helpful in writing literature. For example, the requirement to be aware of our prejudices when analyzing the other; the persistence of trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before questioning or interpreting their actions and ideas on your own. The anthropological method also points out the need to attend to the small details, to the silences, to the unsaid, and that, in literature, is also very important. There is also another tenacious challenge of Anthropology: rigor to present facts as they are and not as we would like. I try not to have the academic style weigh in much while I write fictions, but I find it inevitable to spend days, weeks and sometimes months trying to get to know or absorb the story that surrounds the characters, it is a pleasant effort, I must say, that later gives more security in sketching the fictional scenario.
With regard to the second question, just as in a moment of my life when I needed to immerse myself thoroughly in Anthropology in order to feel fulfilled, another began to arrive in which the writing of articles, theses and essays in anthropological academic key was beginning to afflict me. I felt inside a corset, I imagine it was all the literature I drank that sought to be present in my life. Add to this that novels and short stories have an extremely rich capacity for dialogue with a greater variety and quantity of readers, while academic texts, with exceptions, restrict their dialogue to a specialized audience.
CV: Borges mentioned in one of his texts on Kafka that “each writer creates his/her precursors” insofar as ” his/her work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future”. Who would you say are those writers who have modified your perception of the world and perhaps inspired you to write?
KP: At first D.H. Lawrence, I approached Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was twelve or thirteen years-old, looking for a book that was famous for being banned, and it was in the course of its reading that I encountered literature, that is, not with the torrid history of two lovers, but with the deep and defiant soul of these two characters, and I could see them, almost touch them and feel part of that story where the forest, the journey, the sensuality, the freedom, the search are essential elements (I keep in my memory a fundamental phrase by Mellors, the forest ranger: “I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regrets”). Also as a teenager, another author who inspired me was Gabriel García Márquez with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was captivated and I went on to devour every book that came from him to my hands. I think the next one was Cronicas y Reportajes and it also left me dazzled. I think of the unique and original magical realism of GGM, perhaps the most magical is the way it ignited the spirit of so many- millions of people, with what force it encouraged our love of reading. Marguerite Yourcenar and Stefan Zweig are two authors I met later and who have been deep referents, readings that I always come back to. In both of them I am fascinated by the ability to travel in person, as well as in fictions and essays, by history and the most diverse geographies, that exploration that they do to the human soul, in our lights and shadows as humanity, with a precise poetic breath, even when they may be relating atrocious situations, as in that indispensable biography of Zweig (so valid), The World of Yesterday or in his essay Castelio against Calvin. And in the case of Yourcenar, I would mention in particular the wonderful exploration, recreation and invention of myths in their Oriental Tales.
Beyond, something that since childhood has always been a motor of flight and inspiration are the myths and legends of the world. At the age of six or seven, I started with a collection called Fabulandia, which collected stories, myths, and legends of the five continents, little known stories (not the classic children’s stories, but some more strange and less known) accompanied by some illustrations, which look like works of art. I think that because of that influence I studied Anthropology and also, in literature, especially in many of my stories, there is that inclination to include mythical and legendary elements.
CV: Since you mentioned it, does this new novel have a publishing date?
KP: I hope it comes out in 2017. Since I finished writing the first draft, almost two years ago, I’ve done several revisions, cuts, enlargements and revisions. I hope that as soon as this last revision concludes, it is mature enough to move on to the editing-publishing stage. It is a novel that travels through the jungle of the north and the south, investigating archaeological sites and the end of innocence, as well as in the unresolved stories that we inherited from our ancestors.
©Photograph of Karina Pacheco by Karina Pacheco